Two Kinds Of Truth Excerpt
Bosch was in cell 3 of the old San Fernando jail, looking through files from one of the Esme Tavares boxes, when a heads-up text came in from Bella Lourdes over in the detective bureau.
LAPD and DA heading your way. Trevino told them where you are.
Bosch was where he was at the start of most weeks; sitting at his makeshift desk, a wooden door he had borrowed from the Public Works yard and placed across two stacks of file boxes. After sending Lourdes a thank-you text, he opened the memo app on his phone and turned on the recorder. He put the phone screen-down on the desk and partially covered it with a file from the Tavares box. It was a just-in-case move. He had no idea why people from the District Attorney’s Office and his old police department were coming to see him first thing on a Monday morning. He had not received a call alerting him to the visit, though to be fair, cellular connection within the steel bars of the cell was virtually nonexistent. Still, he knew that the surprise visit was often a tactical move. Bosch’s relationship with the LAPD since his forced retirement two years earlier had been strained at best and his attorney had urged him to protect himself by documenting all interactions with the department.
While he waited for them, he went back to the file at hand. He was looking through statements taken in the weeks after Tavares had disappeared. He had read them before but he believed that the case files often contained the secret to cracking a cold case. It was all there if you could find it. A logic discrepancy, a hidden clue, a contradicting statement, an investigator’s handwritten note in the margin of a report—all of these things had helped Bosch clear cases in a career four decades long and counting.
There were three file boxes on the Tavares case. Officially it was a missing-persons case but it had gathered three feet of stacked files over fifteen years because it was classified as such only because a body had never been found.
When Bosch came to the San Fernando Police Department two years before to volunteer his skills looking at cold case files, he had asked Chief Anthony Valdez where to start. The chief, who had been with the department twenty-five years, told him to start with Esmerelda Tavares. It was the case that haunted Valdez as an investigator, but as police chief he could not give adequate time to it.
In two years working in San Fernando part-time, Bosch had reopened several cases and closed nearly a dozen—multiple rapes and murders among them. But he came back to Esme Tavares whenever he had an hour here and there to look through the file boxes. She was beginning to haunt him too. A young mother who vanished, leaving a sleeping baby in a crib. It might be classified as a missing-persons case but Bosch didn’t have to read through even the first box to know what the chief and every investigator before him knew. Foul play was most likely involved. Esme Tavares was more than missing. She was dead.
Bosch heard the metal door to the jail wing open and then footsteps on the concrete floor that ran in front of the three group cells. He looked up through the iron bars and was surprised by who he saw.
It was his former partner, Lucia Soto, along with two men in suits whom Bosch didn’t recognize. The fact that Soto had apparently not let him know they were coming put Bosch on alert. It was a forty-minute drive from both the LAPD’s headquarters and the D.A.’s office downtown to San Fernando. That left plenty of time to type out a text and say, “Harry, we are heading your way.” But that hadn’t happened, so he assumed that the two men he didn’t know had put the clamps on Soto.
“Lucia, long time,” Bosch said. “How are you, partner?”
It looked like none of the three were interested in entering Bosch’s cell, even if it had been repurposed. He stood up, deftly grabbing his phone from beneath the files on the desk and transferring it to his shirt pocket, placing the screen against his chest. He walked to the bars and stuck his hand through. Though he had talked to Soto intermittently by phone and text over the last year, he had not seen her. Her appearance had changed. She had lost weight and she looked drawn and tired, her dark eyes worried. Rather than shaking his hand, she squeezed it. Her grip was tight and he took that as a message: be careful here.
It was easy for Bosch to figure out who was who between the two men. Both were in their early forties and dressed in suits that most likely came off the rack at Men’s Wearhouse. But the man on the left’s pinstripes were showing wear from the inside out. Bosch knew that meant he was wearing a shoulder rig beneath the jacket and the hard edge of his weapon’s slide was wearing through the fabric. Bosch guessed that the silk lining had already been chewed up. In six months the suit would be toast.
“Bob Tapscott,” he said. “Lucky Lucy’s partner now.”
Tapscott was black and Bosch wondered if he was related to Horace Tapscott, the late South L.A. musician who had been vital in preserving the community’s jazz identity.
“And I’m Alex Kennedy, deputy district attorney,” said the second man. “We’d like to talk to you if you have a few minutes.”
“Uh, sure,” Bosch said. “Step into my office.”
He gestured toward the confines of the former cell now fitted with steel shelves containing case files. There was a long communal bench left over from the cell’s previous existence as a drunk tank. Bosch had files from different cases lined up to review on the bench. He started stacking them to make room for his visitors to sit, even though he was pretty sure they wouldn’t.
“Actually, we talked to your Captain Trevino, and he says we can use the war room over in the detective bureau,” Tapscott said. “It will be more comfortable. Do you mind?”
“I don’t mind if the captain doesn’t mind,” Bosch said. “What’s this about anyway?”
“Preston Borders,” Soto said.
Bosch was walking toward the open door of the cell. The name put a slight pause in his step.
“Let’s wait until we’re in the war room,” Kennedy said quickly. “Then we can talk.”
Soto gave Bosch a look that seemed to impart the message that she was under the D.A.’s thumb on this case. He grabbed his keys and the padlock off the desk, stepped out of the cell and then slid the metal door closed with a heavy clang. The key to the cell had disappeared long ago and Bosch wrapped a bicycle chain around the bars and secured the door with the padlock.
They left the old jail and walked through the Public Works equipment yard out to First Street. While waiting for traffic to pass, Bosch casually pulled his phone out of his pocket and checked for messages. He had received nothing from Soto or anyone else prior to the arrival of the party from downtown. He kept the recording going and put the phone back in his pocket.
Soto spoke, but not about the case that had brought her up to San Fernando.
“Is that really your office, Harry?” she asked. “I mean, they put you in a jail cell?”
“Yep,” Bosch said. “That was the drunk tank and sometimes I think I can still smell the puke when I open it up in the morning. Supposedly five or six guys hung themselves in there over the years. Supposed to be haunted. But it’s where they keep the cold case files, so it’s where I do my work. They store old evidence boxes in the other two cells, so easy access all around. And usually nobody to bother me.”
He hoped the implication of the last line was clear to his visitors.
“So they have no jail?” Soto asked. “They have to run bodies down to Van Nuys?”
Bosch pointed across the street to the police station they were heading toward.
“Only the women go down to Van Nuys,” Bosch said. “We have a jail here for the men. In the station. State-of-the-art, single cells. I’ve even stayed over a few times. Beats the bunk room at the PAB, with everybody snoring.”
She threw him a look as if to say he had changed if he was willing to sleep in a jail cell. He winked at her.
“I can work anywhere,” he said. “I can sleep anywhere.”
When the traffic cleared, they crossed over to the police station and entered through the main lobby. The detective bureau had a direct entrance on the right. Bosch opened it with a key card and held the door as the others stepped in.
The bureau was no bigger than a single-car garage. At its center were three workstations tightly positioned in a single module. These belonged to the unit’s three full-time detectives, Danny Sisto, a recently promoted detective named Oscar Luzon, and Bella Lourdes, just two months back from a lengthy injured-on-duty leave. The walls of the unit were lined with file cabinets, radio chargers, a coffee setup and a printing station below bulletin boards covered in work schedules and departmental announcements. There were also numerous wanted and missing posters, including a variety showing photos of Esme Tavares that had been issued over fifteen years.
Up high on one wall was a poster depicting the iconic Disney ducks Huey, Dewey, and Louie, which were the proud nicknames of the three detectives who worked in the module below. Captain Trevino’s office was to the right and the war room was on the left. A third room was subleased to the Medical Examiner’s Office and used by two coroner’s investigators who covered the entire San Fernando Valley and points north.
All three of the detectives were in their respective work stations. They had recently cracked a major car theft ring operating out of the city and an attorney for one of the suspects had derisively referred to them as Huey, Dewey and Louie. They now took the group nickname as a badge of honor.
Bosch saw Lourdes peeking over a partition from her desk. He gave her a nod of thanks for the heads-up. It was also a sign that so far things were okay.
Bosch led the visitors into the war room. It was a soundproof room with walls lined with whiteboards and flat-screen monitors. At center was a boardroom-style table with eight leather chairs around it. The room was designed to be the command post for major crime investigations, task force operations, and coordinating responses to public emergencies such as earthquakes and riots. The reality was that such incidents were rare and the room was used primarily as a lunchroom, the broad table and comfortable chairs perfect for group lunches. The room carried the distinct odor of Mexican food. The owner of Magaly’s Tamales up on Maclay Avenue routinely dropped off free food for the troops and it was usually devoured in the war room.
“Have a seat,” Bosch said.
Tapscott and Soto sat on one side of the table, while Kennedy went around and sat across from them. Bosch took a chair at one end of the table so he would have angles on all three visitors.
“So, what’s going on?” he said.
“Well, let’s properly introduce ourselves,” Kennedy began. “You, of course, know Detective Soto from your work together in the Open-Unsolved Unit. And now you’ve met Detective Tapscott. They have been working with me on a review of a homicide case you handled almost thirty years ago.”
“Preston Borders,” Bosch said. “How is Preston? Still on death row at the Q last time I checked.”
“He’s still there.”
“So why are you looking at the case?”
Kennedy had pulled his chair close and had his arms folded and his elbows on the table. He drum-rolled the fingers of his left hand as if deciding how to answer Bosch’s question, even though it was clear that everything about this surprise visit was rehearsed.
“I am assigned to the Conviction Integrity Unit,” Kennedy said. “I’m sure you’ve heard of it. I have used Detectives Tapscott and Soto on some of the cases I’ve handled because of their skill in working cold cases.”
Bosch knew that the CIU was new and had been put into place after he had left the LAPD. Its formation was the fulfillment of a campaign promise made during a heated election in which the policing of the police was a hot-ticket debate issue. The newly elected D.A.—Tak Kobayashi—had promised to create a unit that would respond to the seeming groundswell of cases where new forensic technologies had led to hundreds of exonerations of people imprisoned across the country. Not only was new science leading the way, but old science once thought to be unassailable as evidence was being debunked and swinging open prison doors for the innocent.
As soon as Kennedy mentioned his assignment, Bosch put everything together and knew what was going on. Borders, the man thought to have killed three women but convicted of only one murder, was making a final grab at freedom after nearly thirty years on death row.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me, right?” Bosch said. “Borders? Really? You are seriously looking at that case?”
He looked from Kennedy to his old partner Soto.
He felt totally betrayed.
“Lucia?” he said
“Harry,” she said. “You need to listen.”
Bosch felt like the walls of the war room were closing in on him. In his mind and in reality, he had put Borders away for good. He didn’t count on the sadistic sex murderer ever getting the needle, but death row was still its own particular hell, one that was harsher than any sentence that put a man in general population. The isolation of it was what Borders deserved. He went up to San Quentin as a twenty-six-year-old man. To Bosch that meant fifty-plus years of solitary confinement. Less only if he got lucky. More inmates died of suicide than the needle on death row in California.
“It’s not as simple as you think,” Kennedy said.
“Really?” Bosch said. “Tell me why.”
“The obligation of the Conviction Integrity Unit is to consider all legitimate petitions that come to it. Our review process is the first stage, and that happens in house before the cases go to the LAPD or other law enforcement. When a case meets a certain threshold of concern, we go to the next step and call in law enforcement to carry out a due diligence investigation.”
“And of course everyone is sworn to secrecy at that point.”
Bosch looked at Soto as he said it. She looked away.
“Absolutely,” Kennedy said.
“I don’t know what evidence Borders or his lawyer brought to you, but it’s bullshit,” Bosch said. “He murdered Danielle Skyler and everything else is a scam.”
Kennedy didn’t respond but from his look Bosch could tell he was surprised he still remembered the victim’s name.
“Yeah, thirty years later I remember her name,” Bosch said. “I also remember Donna Timmons and Vicki Novotney, the two victims your office claimed we didn’t have enough evidence to file on. Were they part of this due diligence you conducted?”
“Harry,” Soto said, trying to calm him.
“Borders didn’t bring any new evidence,” Kennedy said. “It was already there.”
That hit Bosch like a punch. He knew Kennedy was talking about the physical evidence from the case. The implication was that there was evidence from the crime scene or elsewhere that cleared Borders of the crime. The greater implication was incompetence or, worse, malfeasance—that he had missed the evidence or intentionally withheld it.
“What are we talking about here?” he asked.
“DNA,” Kennedy said. “It wasn’t part of the original case in ’eighty-eight. The case was prosecuted before DNA was allowed into use in criminal cases in California. It wasn’t introduced and accepted by a court up in Ventura for another year. In L.A. County it was a year after that.”
“We didn’t need DNA,” Bosch said. “We found the victim’s property hidden in Borders’s apartment.”
Kennedy nodded to Soto.
“We went to property and pulled the box,” she said. “You know the routine. We took clothing collected from the victim to the lab and they put it through the serology protocol.”
“They did a protocol thirty-years ago,” Bosch said. “But back then, they looked for ABO markers instead of DNA. And they found nothing. You’re going to tell me that—”
“They found semen,” Kennedy said. “It was a minute amount, but this time they found it. The process has obviously gotten more sophisticated since this killing. And what they found didn’t come from Borders.”
Bosch shook his head.
“Okay, I’ll bite,” he said. “Whose was it?”
“A rapist named Lucas John Olmer,” Soto said.
Bosch had never heard of Olmer. His mind went to work, looking for the scam, the fix, but not considering that he had been wrong when he closed the cuffs around Borders’s wrists.
“Olmer’s in San Quentin, right?” he said. “This whole thing is a—”
“No, he’s not,” Tapscott said. “He’s dead.”
“Give us a little credit, Harry,” Soto added. “It’s not like we went looking for it to be this way. Olmer was never in San Quentin. He died in Corcoran two years ago and he never knew Borders.”
“We’ve checked it six ways from Sunday,” Tapscott said. “The prisons are three hundred miles apart and they did not know or communicate with each other. It’s not there.”
There was a certain gotcha smugness in the way Tapscott spoke. It gave Bosch the urge to backhand him across the mouth. Soto knew her old partner’s triggers and reached over to put a hand on Bosch’s arm.
“Harry, this is not your fault,” she said. “This is on the lab. The reports are all there. You’re right—they found nothing. They missed it back then.”
Bosch looked at her and pulled his arm back.
“You really believe that?” he said. “Because I don’t. This is Borders. He’s behind this—somehow. I know it.”
“How, Harry? We’ve looked for the fix in this.”
“Who’s been in the box since the trial?”
“No one. In fact, the last one in that box was you. The original seals were intact with your signature and the date right across the top. Show him the video.”
She nodded to Tapscott, who pulled his phone and opened up a video. He turned the screen to Bosch.
“This is at Piper Tech,” he said.
Piper Tech was a massive complex in downtown where the LAPD’s records and evidence property archives were located, along with the fingerprint unit and the aero squadron—using the football field-sized roof as a heliport. Bosch knew that the integrity protocol in the archival unit was high. Sworn officers had to provide departmental ID and fingerprints to pull evidence from any case. The boxes were opened in an examination area under twenty-four-hour video surveillance. But this was Tapscott’s own video, recorded on his phone.
“This was not our first go-round with CIU, so we have our own protocol,” Tapscott said. “One of us opens the box, one records the whole thing. Doesn’t matter that they have their own cameras down there. And as you can see, no seal is broken, no tampering.”
The video showed Soto displaying the box to the camera, turning it over so that all sides and seams could be seen as intact. The seams had been sealed with the old labels used back in the eighties. For at least the last couple of decades the department had been using red evidence tape that cracked and peeled if tampered with. Back in 1988, white rectangular stickers with LAPD Analyzed Evidence printed on them along with a signature and date line were used to seal evidence boxes. Soto manipulated the box in a bored manner and Bosch read that as her thinking they were wasting their time on this one. At least up until that point, Bosch still had her in his court.
Tapscott came in close on the seals used on the top seam of the box. Bosch could see his signature on the top center sticker along with the date September 9, 1988. He knew the date would have placed the sealing of the box at the end of the trial. Bosch had returned the evidence, sealed the box and then stored it in archives in case an appeal overturned the verdict and they had to go to trial again. That never happened with Borders and the box had presumably stayed on a shelf in archives, avoiding any intermittent clear outs of old evidence because he had also clearly marked on the box “187”—the California penal code for murder—which in the evidence room meant “don’t throw away.”
As Tapscott manipulated the box, Bosch recognized his own routine of using evidence seals on all seams of the box, including the bottom. He had always done it that way till they moved on to the red evidence tape.
“Go back,” Bosch said. “Let me just look at the signature again.”
Tapscott pulled the phone back, manipulated the video and then froze the image on the close up of the seal Bosch had signed. He held the screen out to Bosch, who leaned in to study it. The signature was faded and hard to read but it looked legit.
“Okay,” Bosch said.
Tapscott restarted the video. On the screen Soto used a box cutter attached by a wire to an examination table to slice through the labels and open the box. As she started removing items from the box, including the victim’s clothing and an envelope containing her fingernail clippings, she called each piece of property out so it would be duly recorded. Among the items she mentioned was a seahorse pendant which had been the key piece of evidence against Borders.
Before the video was over, Tapscott pulled the phone back and killed the playback. He then put the phone away.
“On and on like that,” he said. “Nobody fucked with the box, Harry. What was in it had been there since the day you sealed it after the trial.”
Something about Tapscott—a stranger—using his first name bothered Bosch. He put that annoyance aside and was silent for a long moment as he considered for the first time that his thirty-year belief that he had put a sadistic killer away for good was bogus.
“Where’d they find it?” he finally asked.
“Find what?” Kennedy asked.
“The DNA,” Bosch said.
“One microdot on the victim’s pajama bottoms,” Kennedy said.
“Easy to have missed back in ’eighty-seven,” Soto said. “They were probably just using black lights then.”
“So what happens now?” he asked.
Soto looked at Kennedy. The question was his to answer.
“There’s a hearing on a habeas motion scheduled in Department one-oh-seven next Wednesday,” the prosecutor said. “We’ll be joining Borders’s attorneys and asking Judge Houghton to vacate the sentence and release him from death row.”
“Jesus Christ,” Bosch said.
“His lawyer has also notified the city that he’ll be filing a claim,” Kennedy continued. “We’ve been in contact with the City Attorney’s Office and they hope to negotiate a settlement. We’re probably talking well into seven figures.”
Bosch looked down at the table. He couldn’t hold anyone’s eyes.
“And I have to warn you,” Kennedy said. “If a settlement is not reached and he files a claim in federal court, he can go after you personally.”
Bosch nodded. He knew that already. A civil rights claim filed by Borders would leave Bosch personally responsible for damages if the city chose not to cover him. Since two years ago Bosch had sued the city to reinstate his full pension, it was unlikely that he would find a single soul in the City Attorney’s Office interested in indemnifying him against damages collected by Borders. The one thought that pushed through this reality was of his daughter. He could be left with nothing but an insurance policy going to her after he was gone.
“I’m sorry,” Soto said. “If there were any other…”
She didn’t finish and he slowly brought his eyes up to hers.
“Nine days,” he said.
“What do you mean?” she said.
“The hearing’s in nine days. I have until then to figure out how he did it.”
“Harry, we’ve been working this for five weeks. There’s nothing. This was before Olmer was on anybody’s radar. All we know is he wasn’t in jail at the time and he was in L.A.—we found work records. But the DNA is the DNA. On her night clothes, DNA from a man later convicted of multiple abduction-rapes. All cases home intrusions—very similar to Skyler. But without the death. I mean, look at the facts. No D.A. in the world would touch this or go any other way with it.”
Kennedy cleared his throat.
“We came here today out of respect for you, Detective, and all the cases you’ve cleared over time. We don’t want to get into an adversarial position on this. That would not be good for you.”
“And you don’t think every one of those cases I cleared are affected by this?” Bosch said. “You open the door to this guy and you might as well open it for every one of the people I sent away. If you put it on the lab—same thing. It taints everything.”
Bosch leaned back and stared at his old partner. He had at one time been her mentor. She had to know what this was doing to him.
“It is what it is,” Kennedy said. “We have an obligation. ‘Better that one hundred guilty men go free than one innocent man be imprisoned.’”
“Spare me your bastardized Ben Franklin bullshit,” Bosch said. “We found evidence connecting Borders to all three of those women’s disappearances and your office passed on two of them, some snot-nosed prosecutor saying there was not enough. This doesn’t fucking make sense. I want the nine days to do my own investigation and I want access to everything you have and everything you’ve done.”
He looked at Soto as he said it but Kennedy responded.
“Not going to happen, Detective,” he said. “As I said, we’re here as a courtesy. But you’re not on this case anymore.”
Before Bosch could counter, there was a sharp knock on the door and it was cracked open. Bella Lourdes stood there. She waved him out.
“Harry,” she said. “We need to talk right now.”
There was an urgency in her voice that Bosch could not ignore. He looked back at the others seated at the table and started to get up.
“Hold on a second,” he said. “We’re not done.”
He stood up and went to the door. Lourdes signaled him all the way out with her fingers. She closed the door behind him. He noticed that the squad room was now empty—no one in the module, the captain’s door open and his desk chair empty.
And Lourdes was clearly agitated. She used both hands to hook her short dark hair behind her ears, an anxiety habit Bosch had noticed the petite, compact detective had been exhibiting since coming back to work.
“We’ve got two down in a robbery at a farmacia on the mall.”
“Two what? Officers?”
“No, people there. Behind the counter. Two one-eighty-sevens. The chief wants all hands on this. Are you ready? You want to ride with me?”
Bosch looked back at the closed door of the war room and thought about what had been said in there. What was he going to do about it? How was he going to handle it?
“Harry, come on, I gotta go. You in or out?”
Bosch looked at her.
“Okay, let’s go.”
They moved quickly toward the exit that took them directly into the side lot where detectives and command staff parked. He pulled his phone out of his shirt pocket and turned off the recording app.
“What about them?” Lourdes said.
“Fuck them,” Bosch said. “They’ll figure it out.”